Don’t Fear the Agile

When truly Agile, we developers are involved less in projects we don’t believe in. We can influence on what the outcome will be. But it demands courage and will to live in a constant change.

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Agile and billiards – or pool – has things in common. At the beginning of a game the balls are in neat, predefined order. During the game however their position on the table changes in unpredictable ways, ways that nobody could see. The best action is chosen according to the new situation. This is the idea behind Agile too. Details are decided as the development progresses instead of heavy planning at the beginning.

Back in the days project managers tried to plan software projects from start to finish with all the details. This worked in those rare occasions when own people made no mistakes and other players acted completely according to ‘the script’. One can count these with his or her middle fingers.

Planning a software project beforehand with all the details is practically impossible. Especially if you want to create an outcome, that fills users needs and produces significant value to the customer who pays the bill. Something unforeseen always comes up during the project. Something that needs responding. In agile these situations are solved by changing the game plan.

Agile Gives You Better Solutions

During my 15 year career as software craftsman I’ve been involved in hundreds of bigger and smaller development actions, projects and ventures. I have also seen that agile methodologies scares some people. They feel the development, though falsely, a lot safer, if all things can be planned precisely.

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The Agile way is a huge opportunity for us developers. Yes, it demands skill and will to regenerate constantly. But with it, we can create solutions that exceeds the expectations.

I was working in a software project, where we knowingly skipped planning of an uncertain part which were to be implemented only after few months. During these months the customer scoped that part completely out of the product. Being agile and co-operating with the customer we avoided redundant design and work. These decisions also prevented creating unnecessary complex system. We saved customers money and created a better outcome.

Sometimes also totally new requirements emerge. Depending on their size, they might even paralyse the traditional software development process. At least they will delay it significantly.

Agile Necessitates Continues Learning

Agile has enabled me to try out new tools and techniques and learn new stuff constantly. Sometimes experiments have not produced the expected outcome, but they have never been useless. So called failures also provides lots of information for the next steps to take. As in billiards, learning how the spins work in general and in different situations, I can rectify errors in previous shots in the upcoming ones.

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Continuous learning and improving is part of developers DNA. Without running experiments and learning, you can only achieve a good solution to a single problem. And that is already in the past.

Winning the Competive Edge with Learning Organizations

A learning organization encourages individuals and teams to continuous learning and improvement. Strong values and clear vision head those organizations. And their direction is to work closer to the customer and responding to the change quicker. They tend to learn from others and question their own behaviour. Learning organizations also tolerate flaws and even learn from them. This should be the reality for any agile team and organisztion.

Learning is the lifeblood of organization

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People face change all kinds of changes in their work life all the time. This means that learning continues in different forms through out the whole career. Also the life cycle of an organization include constant learning. They face new things, operating models, situations and so forth which needs adaptation. And that requires learning. Changes in information technology has increased the need to react faster to change. Real competitive edge comes from that the organization learns faster than its competitors. Thus importance of competence and know-how to success has increased.
Succeeding in fast changing and unpredictable environment demands constant change and recurrence, learning. Only innovative organization can produce better services and end up beating its rivals. Organization’s results must improve all the time. And so the performance of organization and its employee must get better. So effectiveness is dependent on learning. Learning faster than competitors wins you the Competitive edge!

Learning within the team and the organization

Learning is a process where individual gains new skills, competences, experiences and contacts. Learning is in fact creating knowledge by shaping experiences. The process starts from the will to learn from experiences. Then, one should have time to ponder different opinions and facts to gain knowledge. Finally one should understand and apply new knowledge to generate new experiences. And so the learning process starts again.
Let’s look all this from the organization point of view. By following this process, it has the ability to renew itself. This happens by transforming its values, processes and ways of working. In practice this happens by acquiring new competence and make use of it immediately. Organizational learning is also a process that integrates individual and team level learning. Individual learning is often intuitive and interacted to team level as shared knowledge. This can again solidify as practices within the organization.
Learning-Organization
The learning objectives must derive from the strategy. This ensures that organizational learning is more than the sum of individuals’ learning. The organization should encourage and support employees to experiment outside their job description. It should also increase supportive interaction. This can happen by removing focus on single department results and hastiness. Making small everyday insights and improvements beats big radical inventions!
Good contact networks between individuals and teams contributes to whole organization’s learning capabilities. Individuals facilitates continuous learning. Teams enable sharing knowledge. Shared vision and values of the organization guides learning towards something great.

Is the Learning Organization too much asked for?

Every organization learns. But successful organization learns, adapts and changes faster than its competitors. It also allows mistakes. Learning organization guides itself: reduce, crystallize, simplify, focus and see the whole. It balances efficiency, learning and wellbeing.
Learning organization has ten theses:
  1. Learning organization is a whole
  2. Learning organization needs values that support learning
  3. Goal-oriented action requires goal-oriented learning
  4. Learner crafts own motives to learn along the the organizations goals
  5. Knowing and mastering are important. Learning and learning to learn are more important
  6. Give people opportunity to engage – change will succeed better
  7. Management’s mission is to build frames and to support learning in organization
  8. Value the past, but help abandon it
  9. Training is important, but one requires other means too
  10. Don’t start changes if you can’t finish them
The learning organization has many definitions:
It is an undivided whole, led consciously. It’s key organization and individual level factors affiliates into common direction. It focuses on identifying impediments, applying and evaluating means.
A learning organization is one that seeks to create its own future. That assumes learning is an ongoing and creative process for its members. A process that develops, adapts, and transforms itself. It responses to the needs and aspirations of people, both inside and outside itself.
What should we learn within the learning organization? Learning to learn is in the essence. And that leads to reflection, using retrospectives to gain insight on improvement actions. Every task should appear as an opportunity to learn and improve. Learning from everyday tasks links new insights into concrete actions. Ten most valuable learning skills for organizational learning are:
  1. Systems thinking
  2. Models leading internal action
  3. Strategic learning
  4. Feedback systems on individual, team and organization level
  5. Self-management
  6. Team learning
  7. Dialog
  8. Shared vision
  9. Benefiting from information systems
  10. Sharing of knowledge

Mental-model

Want your organization to rock at learning?

Superstar learning organization needs new dimensions to leadership. You need builders and trendsetters. Questioners and facilitators. Provokers and assessors of whole. You need to enable cooperation and collaboration to create lean and progressive organization.
So as a leader introduce principles from Lean to your organization. Remind individuals and teams about relentless reflection (Hansei) – even daily. Show them secrets of continuous improvement (Kaizen) on small steps. Create pattern of retrospectives to support both of these. Consider applying Shu-Ha-Ri into your organization. We in Siili Solutions have done this for example with our Master & Apprentice programs.
Remember to learn daily and that learning should be fun.